Welcome to the webbed and wired edition of R&R, aristotle. We’ll be doing the same sort of song and dance here as we do in print: reviewing the latest comics and cartoon-related books and ranting about trends and abuses and unfathomable foolishnesses. Each installment will stay here for about four weeks, with a new one coming in just about every other week or so. If you don’t have the time to ponder every punctuation mark in this deathless prose and merely want to see what might be there that would interest you, we suggest you scroll down the page looking for the bold-face type that heralds the notables who reside herein this week. So here we go with Opus 372 (and a reprises of Opus 370b and Opus 371):
Opus 372: Sheena, Moneypenny and Black Terror Funnybooks, Source of Ideas, Esquire Cartoons Analyzed, Mort Meskin and Jerry Robinson, Rube Goldberg’s Foolish Questions, Baker Street Four & Corto Maltese in Siberia (October 22, 2017).
Opus 370b: Cartoons Debut at Esquire, Graphic Novels at Libraries, Archie’s New Comics, Savage Dragon Still Savaging, Reed Crandall Biog, Jefferson MacHamer & Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen (September 11, 2017).
Opus 372 (October 22, 2017). Herewith, we drop the other shoe. Opus 371, which we posted just days ago, was the first half of a posting that grew so verbose and lengthy that it broke in half. This is the other half. Opus 371 was mostly news; Opus 372, the one you’re poised to read, is mostly reviews— of first issue funnybooks, cartoons in Esquire, and books on Mort Meskin and Jerry Robinson, Rube Goldberg’s Foolish Questions and Shoe comic strip reprints, plus graphic novels Baker Street Four (Vol.2) and Corto Maltese in Siberia. But there are other topics—where ideas come from, Hank Ketcham’s scarred visage, “line tangent” explained, lampooning at the National Cartoonists Society, what’s happening in newspaper comics, and obits for Len Wein and the Summer of Love. Here’s what’s here, in order, by department—:
NOUS R US
Seuss Museum Brouhaha
Marston Menage a Troi Creates Wonder Woman Movie
FUNNYBOOK FAN FARE
Reviews of First Issues Of—:
Dastard & Muttley
James Bond: Moneypenny
The Hard Place
Sheena Queen of the Jungle
And follow-up on—:
Divided States of Hysteria
WHERE DO IDEAS COME FROM?
An Essay on the Creative Process
By Garry Trudeau
A Few of the Recent Crop (Very Few)
THE FROTH ESTATE
A Quotable Quote
CARTOONING IN ESQUIRE
Analysis & Critique
NEWSPAPER COMICS PAGE VIGIL
Plus a Book Review of the new Shoe Reprint
GOSSIP & GARRULITIES
Hank Ketcham’s Self-caricature and How It Got That Way
ACCRETION OF INTENTION DEPARTMENT
Reviewing Older (but not Antique) Books—:
From Shadow to Light: The Life and Art of Mort Meskin
RANCID RAVES GALLERY
Shannon Wheeler’s book of Trump Tweets
Verboten “Line Tangent” Explained and Illustrated
Spots of the Trumpet
Short Reviews of—:
Foolish Questions & Other Odd Observations:
Early Comics by Rube Goldberg
Jerry and the Joker: Adventures and Comic Art by Jerry Robinson
A Round-up of Forthcoming Titles
Encyclopedia of Black Comics (alert)
LONG FORM PAGINATED CARTOON STRIPS
Reviews of Graphic Novels—:
The Baker Street Four, Vol.2
Corto Maltese in Siberia
Lampooning at National Cartoonists Society
Obit for Len Wein
Remembering the Death of the Summer of Love
(And Where Was I Then?)
QUOTE OF THE MONTH
If Not of A Lifetime
“Goddamn it, you’ve got to be kind.”—Kurt Vonnegut
Our Motto: It takes all kinds. Live and let live.
Wear glasses if you need ’em.
But it’s hard to live by this axiom in the Age of Tea Baggers,
so we’ve added another motto:.
Seven days without comics makes one weak.
(You can’t have too many mottos.)
And our customary reminder: when you get to the $ubscriber/Associate Section (perusal of which is restricted to paid subscribers), don’t forget to activate the “Bathroom Button” by clicking on the “print friendly version” so you can print off a copy of just this installment for reading later, at your leisure while enthroned. Without further adieu, then, here we go—:
NOUS R US
Some of the News That Gives Us Fits
The PC horseshit about a mural at the Seuss Museum (reported last time, Opus 371)—which, taken from an illustration in Dr. Seuss’ 1937 Mulberry Street book, depicts a Chinese man with slanted eyes, a pointy hat, eating with chopsticks, and wearing clogs—resulted in the Museum removing the mural.
The three children’s book authors who raised a stink are now so “heartened” by this development that they’ve offered to appear, as originally scheduled, in a Children’s Literature Festival that was cancelled in the furor—should the Museum want them back. The Festival has been rescheduled, according to Lauren Barack at slj.com, so—maybe.
As I said last time, I don’t like this fuss because it is wholly wrong-headed. Its only redeeming aspect is that it proves the folly of Political Correctness. What’s correct to some people is incorrect to others.
Some people objected to the Museum’s failure to exhibit Seuss’s racist political cartoons from World War II, when nearly all editoonists were making racist caricatures of Japanese and Germans, because Seuss’s racism in those years was part of his personality and therefore ought to be in the Museum; and others, the three authors f’instance, objected to what they saw as a racist picture of a Chinese man and wanted it removed.
So: make up your minds! Racism or no racism—which is it to be? The contradictory impulses here were what got my wattles in an uproar, demonstrating, as they do, how silly the PC preoccupation often is. (Not always, but usually.)
The authors, in their protest, thought the Museum should created a “context” for the Chinese man picture so it would be a “teachable moment.” Context? What the hell is the “context”? That everyone was a racist 100 years ago (and not so long ago as that, even)? And that everyone still is? I suppose.
But the Chinese man with chopsticks doesn’t strike me as a racist portrait. It seems a stereotypical incorporation of widely-recognized cultural attributes into a single picture—much like picturing an Indian with a moustache and a turban, riding on an elephant, which also occurs in the mural. If Seuss had wanted a representative of Africa, I suppose that representative would be colored brown or black. Is that racism?
So how should Seuss have depicted someone he wanted to be representative of China? Of India?
THE MANAGE A TROI ORIGIN OF WONDER WOMAN
The creation of Wonder Woman by a man living in the same household with two women who were also his sexual partners (on alternate nights?) is simply too juicy for Hollywood to pass up in these enlightened sexually diverse times. And so writer/director Angela Robinson made a movie of it, making, now, common knowledge what only funnybook fans have known (and they only for a couple dozen years)—namely, that the inventor of Wonder Woman, William Moulton Marston, lived with his wife, Elizabeth Marston, and his lover, a one-time student of his, Olive Byrne, in a happy, lasting menage a troi. The arrival of the film has provoked no little comment and amazement among film critics and reviewers.
One of the best is in thecomicsjournal.com, where Tim Hanley begins with this insightful description—:
“In a pivotal scene in the movie Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote) dons a burlesque outfit in a shop run by Charles Guyette (JJ Field), a man known to history as the godfather of American fetish art. Robinson’s film is the story of Wonder Woman creator William Moulton Marston (Luke Evans) and his polyamorous relationship with Elizabeth Marston (Rebecca Hall) and Olive, and this scene is key to the genesis of the famed heroine. Along with the skimpy outfit, Olive wears a tiara and large bracelets, and she holds a golden rope. While the costume itself is dark, there’s gold along the chest and red and blue lights reflect off the shiny black material; the backlighting creates a recognizably iconic silhouette. William looks on with awe and lust as Elizabeth ties up Olive in the sturdy rope, and the film then immediately cuts to him at home writing ‘Suprema the Wonder Woman’ in a notebook.
“It is a sensual, compelling scene, and an important moment for all three leads. It is also entirely fictional.
“On its own terms, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is a very good film indeed. It begins in the mid-1920s when married psychologists William and Elizabeth encounter Olive, a student of theirs at Radcliffe College, and follows the evolution of their relationship from intrigue to lust to love. After initial trepidation, the three form a family, with each woman having two children via William. Inspired by these remarkable women, William creates Wonder Woman in 1941, and the film ends in the mid-1940s, shortly before his death. It’s an unconventional love story, and Robinson treats both the polyamorous and BDSM [bondage, dominance, sadomasochism] aspects of the relationship with respect and care. The film is sexy without being exploitative, romantic yet frank, and often boldly raw as it delves into the emotional complications of the Marstons’ life together.”
The film, Hanley goes on “is a captivating piece, but it’s also a biographical sketch that claims to be ‘the true story of the women behind the man behind the Woman,’ and this is where matters get complicated. It’s a good story well told, but is it the Marstons’ story? All biopics play fast and loose with history, changing details for the sake of simplicity or additional conflict. Creative liberties are to be expected. But at the same time, one also expects a certain level of knowledge and insight into the subjects, their lives, and the world in which they lived.”
The movie makes some changes to the history it purports to relate, some minor, some not. The pivotal role of Sheldon Mayer, an editor at All American Comics, who deleted “Suprema” from the name of Wonder Woman, is omitted from the story. The role of Josette Frank, who was a name on the company’s advisory board rather than a role, is elevated. And the chronology is adjusted to make a more straight-forward narrative.
But, Hanley says, we don’t know if Elizabeth and Olive were into bondage—or, even, if they were romantic or sexually involved. Robinson opts for both.
“We don’t know,” Hanley says, “because we can’t know. The Marstons were very private people, and details about their life together are few. Their descendants are on the record stating that Elizabeth and Olive were like sisters, there was no sexual relationship between them, and there were no bondage activities in their home. Now, the women may not have been inclined to share such information with their children and grandchildren, but there is no definitive information to counter the family’s claims either.
“There are reasons to speculate. William wrote at length about ‘female love relationships’ in his psychological work, heartily endorsing sexual activity between women. And, as the film points out, Elizabeth and Olive lived together for almost forty years after he died. That is the most that we’ve got. With the bondage, a close reading of Wonder Woman and William’s other work does suggest a fetishistic preoccupation with such imagery on his part, but again, that’s all we know. There’s no evidence that he engaged in such activities himself, or that either woman was at all interested in it.
“What we do know is that, while married to Elizabeth, William began a relationship with Olive and she eventually joined their home. Sources differ on how this came together; some suggest that Olive was happily welcomed by Elizabeth, others say that there was friction over the matter.”
Some speculate that Elizabeth welcomed Olive because she saw that the arrival of the younger woman solved a problem for her, Elizabeth. She wanted a family and a professional life, which seemed mutually exclusive in those benighted days; Olive seemed a likely candidate for a live-in baby-sitter, which would enable Elizabeth to have children but to still be free of domestic obligations.
Hanley continues: “Regardless, Marston had two children with each woman. While this tells us that he had a romantic and sexual relationship with each woman, we remain fully in the dark about Elizabeth and Olive’s connection beyond sharing William.
“Robinson ignores this established information in Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, and centers the development of their triad on Elizabeth and Olive. While William is attracted to Olive from the start, the women are the key players here. Olive falls in love with Elizabeth first, and kisses her early on. Elizabeth doesn’t return her affection originally, then when she finally does, it’s the two of them who initiate the trio’s first sexual encounter. William just shows up after to join in. The women begin the bondage play in a similar manner: William is intrigued with it to start, but it’s Olive who chooses to don the tight burlesque outfit and Elizabeth who ties her up. While William ends up with all his fantasies fulfilled, it’s only because Elizabeth and Olive are drawn to each other and let him in on it.
“The mysteries of the Marstons’ home life invite speculation. With so few established facts, reading between the lines is inevitable. Robinson goes a step further, not only presuming that the two women had a romantic relationship but also ignoring the few known facts about how the family came together to center them as the trio’s driving force. It’s a storytelling choice that is unsubstantiated and at odds with history, and calls into question the film’s claim to be the ‘true story’ of the family. These decisions go beyond speculation into outright fiction.”
Robinson also leaves out of her film the role the two women played in the creation of Wonder Woman. Marston, inspired by the burlesque bondage at Guyette’s, concocts “Suprema” and goes off to sell his idea to Max Gaines, the publisher at All American Comics.
Not exactly, saith Hanley.
“While William did meet with Gaines to present his comic book idea, this meeting came about because of an article written by Olive for Family Circle. Olive regularly wrote up interviews with William for the magazine, and one in which he praised the potential of the comic book industry caught Gaines’ eye. He reached out to William, who ended up pitching him a new heroine, and this was because of Elizabeth. Originally, William was thinking about a male hero who would showcase the benefits of submitting to the loving authority of woman, but Elizabeth declared, ‘Come on, let’s have a Superwoman! There’s too many men out there.’ Without Elizabeth or Olive, Wonder Woman would never have existed.
“Moreover, both women had spent the past decade keeping William afloat. The film shows how the family’s unconventional lifestyle led to him being blacklisted in academia, but it glosses over his many failures throughout the 1930s. Before Wonder Woman, William had mounted countless endeavors, including psychological texts, a novel and advice books, Hollywood consulting, using the lie detector in advertising, and more. None succeeded. Elizabeth kept the family fed and clothed with her steady job, and Olive contributed by writing articles and running the household. After years of both women running the household while William flitted from idea to idea, he finally landed a steady gig with Wonder Woman.
“On several fronts, Wonder Woman was the product of the entire triumvirate, not just William, and to reduce Elizabeth and Olive’s role to nothing more than inspiration is a disservice to both women. It also takes us further from the ‘true story’ yet again, and ultimately Professor Marston and the Wonder Women fails as an accurate account of the Marstons and the creation of Wonder Woman.
“It’s a well-made film with charismatic leads, and there’s much to recommend it, including a thoughtful depiction of polyamory and queer romance. But while the broad strokes of the story loosely resemble the truth, the litany of speculation, invention, dismissal of established details, and changes big and small add up to far more fiction than fact.”
I told you Hollywood couldn’t resist.
Galactus as envisioned by Jim Davis’ Garfield will make an appearance in Marvel’s Unbeatable Squirrel Girl No.26, out in November. Yes, that’s right: the fat orange feline enters the universe of superheroes. This issue of the Girl, said Christian Holub at ew.com, “will be styled as a zine made by Squirrel Girl and her super-powered peers, with different artists providing styles for different heroes-turned-artists.” Writer Ryan North contacted Davis to do one of the features.
Galactus seemed to Davis like a logical choice for Garfield to produce because Galactus is big and has an appetite rivaling Garfield’s: Galactus, remember, eats planets whole.
North wrote the story which Davis illustrated with the customary help of his assistants Gary Barker and Dan Davis. “The strip basically uses Galactus as a stand-in for Garfield and his herald the Silver Surfer as a stand-in for Jon Arbuckle,” Garfield’s hapless so-called master.
Said Davis: “When you look at the Silver Surfer, he’s 75% of the way there with Jon, all we had to do is give him the big eyes. That was a natural. Jon kind of hangs around Garfield anyway: he’s the straight man to Garfield’s gags and has to get him food. He’s like Garfield’s herald.
“Galactus was tougher,” Davis went on. “We were throwing stuff back and forth, and the initial sketches just weren’t working for Galactus. I said, Okay—we gotta make him fat. The guy eats planets, for godsake! Once we did that, it’s a little less Galactus but certainly a lot more Garfield. It looked more natural. Obviously, Galactus has put on a few mega-tons for this issue.”
We preview with illustration on the Other Side of the $ubscribers Wall, where we also get a tantalizing glimpse of DE’s newly imagined Barbarella.
And speaking of comebacks, Jane Grey, the X-Man who had to die, is going to rise from the ashes like a Phoenix, it sez here in the latest Previews. And we’re all supposed to forget that the character had to die because she committed an unforgivable sin: she used her superpower to destroy a planet and all of its inhabitants. That sort of inhumanity was just too much even for Marvel so Jane was condemned to death.
And now she’s back, freshly reborn. So much for Marvel morality.
AND BETTIE’S BACK
And Her Front, Too
Dynamite Entertainment has partnered with Playboy to provide an exclusive six-page Bettie Page comic story in the November/December issue of the magazine, reports ICv2. It hits the stands on Hallowe’en.
DE’s Bettie Page comic book series has been a big success, says Nick Barrucci, CEO and Publisher of Dynamite Entertainment. "Writer David Avallone simply nails the perfect tone, and artist Joseph Michael Linsner has brought his uncanny ability to capture the spirit and beauty of his characters to this new exclusive issue. It's exciting to see Ms. Page brought back to the pages where she first made her name."
Bettie Page was chosen as Playboy’s “Miss January” in 1955.
FUNNYBOOK FAN FARE
An admirable first issue must, above all else, contain such matter as will compel a reader to buy the second issue. At the same time, while provoking curiosity through mysteriousness, a good first issue must avoid being so mysterious as to be cryptic or incomprehensible. And, thirdly, it should introduce the title’s principals, preferably in a way that makes us care about them. Fourth, a first issue should include a complete “episode”—that is, something should happen, a crisis of some kind, which is resolved by the end of the issue, without, at the same time, detracting from the cliffhanger aspect of the effort that will compel us to buy the next issue. A completed episode displays decisive action or attitude, telling us that the book’s creators can manage their medium.
DASTARD & MUTTLEY is about a couple of contemporary pilots. The first part of the first issue flaunts entirely too many pictures of aerodynamically superior airplanes; nothing about a picture of an airplane, no matter how superior its aerodynamics, is inherently interesting. Bad comics. The pilots’re flying a reconnaissance mission in the wake of some sort of immense explosion. In the first seat is Richard “Dick” Atcherly, seconded by “Mutt” Muller, who, unaccountably, has brought his pet dog along. Most of their time is spent arguing about the dog. Then they’re approached by a mysterious drone, spewing some sort of orange gas. The plane is disabled, the pilots eject, and the plane crashes.
Next, we’re in a hospital as Atcherly recovers consciousness. He’s being debriefed by a couple of obnoxious FBI types (who refuse to say what agency they are from) whose aggressive questions are matched by Atcherly’s aggressive non-responses. He wants to know where Muller is. He’s somewhere else, they say. They leave, and Atcherly doses off. When he awakens, it’s dark, and Muller is in the room. When he steps out of the shadows, we see that he has the face and head of his dog.
So that’s the cliffhanger.
And the narrative I’ve just rehearsed constitutes two completed episodes during which (1) we learn that Muller is a nice guy and that Atcherly isn’t and (2) is not likely to be bullied, an admirable trait but in this case, exercised by a man with a bad temper, not admirable. Apart from wanting to find out how a man’s head gets replaced by a dog’s head, nothing in this story is provocative or engaging enough to bring me back.
It’s Garth Ennis’s story and it brims with his usual unconventional concepts. Mauricet, who has no first or last name, draws the pictures, and his style is crisp and pleasing, albeit a little sterile. The storytelling makes good use of varied page layouts and panel compositions. Visually speaking, the book is a thoroughly competent work. But the story—apart from the mysterious dog-head thing—doesn’t grip me. Pictures are on the Other Side of the $ubscribers Wall. ... There, you’ll read other reviews of funnybook first issues, of new Esquire cartoons, and of books about Mort Meskin, Jerry Robinson, Rube Goldberg and graphic novels The Baker Street Four and Corto Maltese in Siberia, and you’ll see a scarred Hank Ketcham (with his humorous explanation) and learn where ideas come from and More, of course, Much More— To Witness It All, Click Here
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